Tom Elliott started badly and it all went downhill from there
Tom Elliott’s departure as UUP leader was not inevitable — but it appeared increasingly likely over the last few months.
His initial failure was to find a clear vision to mark the party apart from its DUP rival and develop policies that could win back past supporters.
Elliott’s victory over his only rival, Basil McCrea, was clear enough, but he spent most of his first few months out of public view dealing with internal problems, rather then stamping his personality onto the party.
He was also caught up by the aftermath of the ill-fated political experiment in joining forces with the Conservatives which resulted in the UUP standing still in last May’s Assembly elections and losing ground in key council chambers.
Even potential vote-winners like ‘Flash’ Harry Hamilton, the Freddie Mercury impersonator who quit after selection battles, were castigated, as when chairman David Campbell called him “flash in the pan Harry”. It all left a bad taste.
Elliott made clear at an early stage he was not interested in going on with the Tory courtship, but confused the rank-and-file by continuing discussions with them.
And despite the supposed direct connection to the Cabinet, Elliott did not demonstrate he had much influence there. Just the opposite.
He was outraged when Secretary of State Owen Paterson refused to consider legislative action to prevent Martin McGuinness becoming First Minister if Sinn Fein had emerged as the biggest party at Stormont.
Elliott also alienated some of those still prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt when the Belfast Telegraph revealed the extent of UUP talks with the DUP on unionist unity.
He had not kept the contact secret from the party executive and officers, but the detail of the talks — revealed by his appointed go-between David McNarry — took many members by surprise.
Elliott compounded his error by blaming McNarry, claiming he had exceeded the line agreed in the interview with our political editor Liam Clarke. And just a few days later, in a phonecall from his car, he dismissed Mc Narry from the Stormont education committee.
Whoever the next leader is, he takes over a disparate and increasingly desperate party, with which no-one can hope to do much more than manage its decline.